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Europe and/or World Business Guide: Beware “free” listings

New Zealand law firms are among businesses which have been targeted with a “read the fine print” scam.

The scam has been running at least since 2009 and uses false websites and printed invoices. New campaigns appear to be mounted whenever the scammers set up a new website, often with a new publication name.

The scam begins with an email which appears to offer a chance for companies to have their details carried in publications with names like Europe Business Guide or World Company Register.

The email has a pdf which is a well-designed form with places to fill in company information and details. Information on the form says: “To update your company profile, please print, complete and return this form. (Updating is free of charge).”

The catch is in the fine print at the end of the form. This gives the movement for plain English in legal documents a real boost. We have reproduced a sample from one version of the scam and highlighted words which may be missed. Note that this is printed in very small type and in hard-to-read capital letters.

THE SIGNING OF THIS DOCUMENT REPRESENTS THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS AND THE CONDITIONS STATED IN “THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR INSERTION” ON WEBPAGE: WWW.EUROPEBUSINESSGUIDE.NET. THE SIGNING IS LEGALLY BINDING AND GIVES YOU THE RIGHT OF AN INSERTION IN THE ONLINE DATA BASE OF THE EUROPE BUSINESS GUIDE, WHICH CAN BE ACCESSED VIA THE INTERNET. AND A CD ROM WITH WORLDWIDE BUSINESSES IS GRANTED, ALL IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONTRACT CONDITIONS STATED IN “THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR INSERTION” ON WEBPAGE: WWW.EUROPEBUSINESSGUIDE.NET. THE VALIDATION TIME OF THE CONTRACT IS THREE YEARS AND STARTS ON THE EIGHTH DAY AFTER SIGNING THE CONTRACT. THE INSERTION IS GRANTED AFTER SIGNING AND RECEIVING THIS DOCUMENT BY THE SERVICE PROVIDER. I HEREBY ORDER A SUBSCRIPTION WITH SERVICE PROVIDER EU BUSINESS SERVICES LTD “EUROPE BUSINESS GUIDE”. I WILL HAVE AN INSERTION INTO ITS DATA BASE FOR THREE YEARS. THE PRICE PER YEAR IS EUR 990. THE SUBSCRIPTION WILL BE AUTOMATICALLY EXTENDED EVERY YEAR FOR ANOTHER YEAR, UNLESS SPECIFIC WRITTEN NOTICE IS RECEIVED BY THE SERVICE PROVIDER OR THE SUBSCRIBER TWO MONTHS BEFORE THE EXPIRATION OF THE SUBSCRIPTION. YOUR DATA WILL BE RECORDED. THE PLACE OF JURISDICTION IN ANY DISPUTE ARISING IS THE SERVICE PROVIDER’S ADDRESS. THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE SERVICE PROVIDER AND THE SUBSCRIBER IS GOVERNED BY THE CONDITIONS STATED IN “THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR INSERTION” ON WEBPAGE: WWW.EUROPEBUSINESSGUIDE.NET.

The second stage of the scam is arrival of an invoice purporting to charge for an insertion in the Europe Business Guide. Details of a Bulgarian bank account are given, along with a stern reminder that there is a EUR 99 Late Payment Fee and a EUR 35 Administration Fee.

While lawyers may be less worried about their liability when receiving such “invoices”, it may be worth bringing this to the attention of business clients.

A copy of the “invoice” received by a New Zealand law firm is available here.

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Last updated on the 7th March 2012